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Lawsuit Forces Change in Rules Regarding Access to Complaints in State Court

Bob Hemley represents Courthouse News Service, a California based wire service that reports on lawsuits from the time they are filed in state and federal courts nationwide.  Courthouse News brought an action in the US District Court in Vermont challenging the constitutionality of Vermont court rules that prevented court clerks from providing the public with copies of complaints until after the defendant was served.  In response to the lawsuit, the Vermont Supreme Court issued an emergency order on April 24, 2017 eliminating the offensive rules, establishing a clear victory for the First Amendment.  A link to the Burlington Free Press article describing the case and developments is here:


Gravel & Shea Assists its Media Clients by Advocating for Vermont Shield Law

Multiple media clients have asked Gravel & Shea to assist in promoting a shield law in the Vermont legislature. A shield law would protect Vermont reporters from being used as witnesses of convenience in civil and criminal litigation. Gravel & Shea attorney, Bob Hemley, is featured in the article describing the lobbying efforts which appeared in the March 29, 2017 edition of Seven Days. You can read the article here.

Gravel & Shea Sponsors Peak Pitch and Supports Entrepreneurs

Peak Pitch_edited

Each year, dozens of entrepreneurs and investors meet at Sugarbush Ski Resort for a day of pitching business ideas out on the slopes.

Peak Pitch, an annual event created and run by FreshTracks Capital, gives startup companies an opportunity to try out their messaging as many times as they can ski down the mountain and ride back up again. At the lift, each entrepreneur is paired with an investor and delivers his or her pitch while they ride to the top. The investor then decides whether to invest his fake money in the business. Those entrepreneurs with the most “money” at the end of the morning participate in a Pitch Off after lunch. Gravel & Shea attorneys Heather Hammond, Jeff Polubinski, and Pauline Law happily stepped into their ski boots as premium sponsors of the event for a second year. “What a great way to spend a work day—on the snow with people who are excited about their product!” says Polubinski.

Gravel & Shea is a strong supporter of Sugarbush and FreshTracks as well as the many entrepreneurs that are working to create innovative businesses in Vermont. “At Peak Pitch, we get to connect with entrepreneurs in a fun and casual atmosphere and hear about all the incredible companies they’re starting,” says Pauline Law. “There are people here creating everything from satellites and medical apps to maple sap evaporators.” Gravel & Shea Shareholder Heather Hammond, who specializes in labor and employment law, says she loves working with startups because they’re so passionate about what they’re doing. “When we can get in on the ground floor with these companies, we can give them peace of mind that we are handling their legal and compliance issues so they can focus on what they do best—creating great products!”

Gravel & Shea – Proud Supporter of Go Red for Women

Go Red Luncheon

Wear Red Day

On January 26, 2017, members of the Gravel & Shea PC team attended the 2017 Vermont Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center in South Burlington, Vermont. The firm is a proud annual supporter of this event.

This premier event was filled with emotional yet inspirational personal stories of how heart disease and stroke have touched the lives of women in Vermont. Not only was this event a great opportunity to network with colleagues from the community, it also provided a place where survivors could meet each other and show support for one another.

In addition, Gravel & Shea PC once again hosted a “Go Red” day where, for a small donation, each employee wore red to symbolize their support for the Go Red movement.

Jeff Polubinski Presents on Brownfield Renewable Energy Development at REV Conference

Jeffrey Polubinski

The Annual (Renewable Energy Vermont) REV Conference is usually an optimistic affair, but this year’s crowd was more somber as renewable energy developers and advocates try to navigate a changing regulatory environment in the state. Gravel & Shea Attorney Jeff Polubinski presented at the recent conference held October 13-14 in Burlington and attended by over 450 people from around the country.

Jeff, who has a background in environmental consulting prior to practicing law, helped attendees understand the challenges and potential opportunities of developing renewable projects on contaminated properties or “brownfields.” Under new net metering regulations, projects that produce between 150 and 500 kilowatts of energy must be sited on what have been termed “preferred sites.” These sites—generally landfills, gravel pits, or brownfields—often come with a lot of environmental baggage that can be off-putting to potential developers, who could find themselves responsible for costly or difficult cleanup.

Since Vermont doesn’t have many landfills and gravel pits are often too far off the grid, developing on brownfields may be the only option for many larger solar projects. The ideal, Jeff says, is to find a site that would fit within the state’s definition of “brownfield” but that doesn’t pose a risk to human health and the environment and thus doesn’t require cleanup. To determine whether a site is a brownfield, a potential landowner or lessee will generally do a Phase I Environmental Assessment, a research-based analysis that involves no direct sampling at the site.

Because many statutes hold a landowner or operator responsible for environmental harm regardless of that owner or operator’s actual culpability in creating the harm, taking steps to protect oneself from liability is particularly important. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has recently begun extending a liability protection plan to certain long-term lessees. If a purchaser, “innocent landowner” or long-term lessee works with DEC to do any required cleanup activities, the Department will grant liability protection in perpetuity.

Uncertainty associated with these recent regulatory changes may slow down solar development in Vermont, but Jeff’s goal is to help developers understand how to make the best use of resources like federal grants and protect themselves against current or future liability. The big question for many is whether future renewable energy development on brownfields in Vermont is financially feasible. “There is certainly a premium construction cost,” says Jeff. “But there are ways to mitigate that cost through grants, intelligent planning, and strategic collaboration. There are ultimately a lot of benefits. Someone who has gone through the process and worked with the brownfields program can limit the uncertainty, delays, and liability usually associated with developing on a brownfield so it’s no different from developing on any other site.”

Gravel & Shea recognized as top listed firm in Burlington in multiple practice areas

Best Lawyers Award Badge

Best Lawyers® has included Gravel & Shea and its attorneys in Best Lawyers in America 2017©. The prestigious law firm ranking organization recognized Gravel & Shea as the top listed firm in Burlington in three practice areas: Criminal Defense: General Practice, Criminal Defense: White-Collar, and Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions – Plaintiffs. One practice area was also top listed for the entire state of Vermont: Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions – Plaintiffs. The top listed firm in a particular practice area is the firm with the highest number of listed attorneys in that practice area. Eleven Gravel & Shea attorneys were recognized for 2017.

Best Lawyers also recognized twelve Gravel & Shea practice areas as Tier 1 in Burlington. The Tier 1 practice areas for 2017 are:

Appellate Practice
Commercial Litigation
Corporate Law
Criminal Defense: General Practice
Criminal Defense: White-Collar
First Amendment Law
Litigation – Real Estate
Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs
Mergers & Acquisitions Law
Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Real Estate Law
Securities/Capital Markets Law

Best Lawyers has been recognizing Gravel & Shea attorneys as top in their field since 1989, shortly after the organization began. Best Lawyers determines its rankings based on peer-review surveys and interviews, so inclusion is a statement of a firm’s or an attorney’s reputation among those who interact with them in a professional context, whether clients, colleagues, or adversaries.

Gravel & Shea Attorneys Win Land Use Decision at Vermont Supreme Court


Attorneys Bob O’Neill and Matt Stern won a major land use victory for their client with the Vermont Supreme Court’s recent decision in In re Wagner & Guay Permit. O’Neill and Stern represented a property owner in Grand Isle who received a building permit from the local Development Review Board but faced a permit appeal to the Environmental Division of the Vermont Superior Court and ultimately to the Vermont Supreme Court.

At issue in the case was whether the intended location of a new residence in a subdivision purchased and subdivided by the property owner in 1995 satisfied the conditions of the original permit. The Grand Isle Planning Commission approved the 1995 plat plan, which included a provision intended to keep the rural character of the area. To that end, the plat plan and the resulting permit stated that houses on the lots in question must be built within the tree line.

When the property owner recently received a permit from the Development Review Board to build a new residence on two of the undeveloped lots subject to the tree line condition, an adjoining neighbor appealed the permit on the grounds that the plans for the new residence did not satisfy that requirement. At trial, the Environmental Division heard testimony from three Gravel & Shea witnesses, including the town zoning administrator and an expert engineer. During cross examination by Gravel & Shea attorneys, experts for the neighbor – two of their five witnesses – conceded that the property owner’s interpretation of the plat plan and permit was the more appropriate one. Finding the property owner’s testimony most credible, the Environmental Division ruled in favor of Gravel & Shea and upheld the permit.

The neighbor disputing the permit appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. On appeal, the Court rejected the neighbor’s assertion that the lower court should have construed any ambiguous language against the drafter. Instead, the Court accepted Gravel & Shea’s argument that the lower court’s interpretation of the permit to satisfy the intent of the drafter was correct. As such, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s approval of the permit, and the property owner is now able to move forward with seeking any additional permits and building a house on the property.

Ten Gravel & Shea Attorneys Recognized By Best Lawyers®

Best Lawyers
The prestigious legal ranking organization Best Lawyers® has recognized ten Gravel & Shea partners as leaders in their field, including them in the 2017 edition of New England’s Best Lawyers. In addition, Best Lawyers recognizes a single Lawyer of the Year for each practice and geographic area, those with the highest overall peer feedback for a specific specialty and location. Heather Rider Hammond was recognized as the Litigation – Labor and Employment “Lawyer of the Year” for Burlington.

The Gravel & Shea 2017 attorneys honored by Best Lawyers are:

Peter S. Erly

  • Corporate Law
  • Mergers and Acquisitions Law
  • Securities / Capital Markets Law
  • Securities Regulation

Timothy M. Eustace

  • Litigation – Real Estate

Michelle N. Farkas

  • Real Estate Law

Heather Rider Hammond

  • Employment Law – Management
  • Litigation – Labor and Employment

Robert B. Hemley

  • Bet-the-Company Litigation
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Criminal Defense: General Practice
  • Criminal Defense: White-Collar
  • First Amendment Law
  • Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions – Plaintiffs
  • Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs

William A. Mason

  • Corporate Governance Law
  • Corporate Law

Jerome F. O’Neill

  • Commercial Litigation
  • Criminal Defense: White-Collar
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs

Robert F. O’Neill

  • Commercial Litigation
  • Criminal Defense: General Practice
  • Criminal Defense: White-Collar
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs

Robert H. Rushford

  • Real Estate Law

Norman Williams

  • Appellate Practice
  • Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions – Plaintiffs

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Over 83,000 leading attorneys globally are eligible to vote, and we have received more than 13 million votes to date on the legal abilities of other lawyers based on their specific practice areas around the world. For the 2017 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America©, 7.3 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in almost 55,000 leading lawyers being included in the new edition. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

Gravel & Shea Attorneys Named 2016 Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers Logo

Seven Gravel & Shea attorneys were selected for recognition by Super Lawyers 2016. Super Lawyers provides a credible resource for attorneys and consumers seeking legal counsel by making annual recommendations based on a patented, multiphase selection process. Five percent of the attorneys in Vermont are chosen as Super Lawyers each year, and 2.5% are chosen as Rising Stars.

This year’s recognized Super Lawyers are:

Robert B. Hemley (10th consecutive recognition)

  • General Litigation
  • Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice and General

Jerome F. O’Neill (10th consecutive recognition)

  • Personal Injury, Products and General
  • General Litigation

Robert F. O’Neill (5th consecutive recognition)

  • Medical Malpractice
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Defense

Robert H. Rushford (2nd recognition)

  • Real Estate
  • Environmental


The 2016 Rising Stars, chosen from a pool of attorneys who are under 40 and/or have been practicing for fewer than 10 years, are:

David A. Boyd

  • Business Litigation

Pauline Law

  • Securities & Corporate Finance
  • Intellectual Property
  • Employment & Labor
  • Business/Corporate

Ethan B. McLaughlin (3rd consecutive recognition)

  • Business/Corporate
  • Energy & Natural Resources
  • Mergers & Acquisitions

To find out more about Super Lawyers and Gravel & Shea’s recognized attorneys, click here.